Here I am with a new article after a long time since the last publication.
In the following I’ll talk about the origins of one of the favorite foods (if not the only dish) in Italy and in the world: pizza.
Foods similar to pizza have been made since the neolithic age. Records of people adding other ingredients to bread to make it more flavorful can be found throughout ancient history.
- In Sardinia, French and Italian archaeologists have found bread baked over 7,000 years ago. According to Professor Philippe Marinval, the local islanders leavened this bread.
- The Ancient Greeks had a flat bread called plakous (πλακοῦς, gen. πλακοῦντος – plakountos) which was flavored with toppings like herbs, onion, and garlic.
- In the sixth century BC, the soldiers in Persian King Darius I armies baked flatbreads with cheese and dates on top of their battle shields.
Other examples of flatbreads that survive to this day from the ancient Mediterranean world are focaccia (which may date back as far as the ancient Etruscans), coca (which has sweet and savory varieties) from Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, the Greek Pita, Lepinja in the Balkans, or Piadina in the Romagna part of Emilia-Romagna in Italy.
The innovation that led to flat bread pizza was the use of tomato as a topping. For some time after the tomato was brought to Europe from the Americas in the 16th century, it was believed by many Europeans to be poisonous (as are some other fruits of the nightshade family). However, by the late 18th century, it was common for the poor of the area around Naples to add tomato to their yeast-based flat bread, and so the pizza began. The dish gained popularity, and soon pizza became a tourist attraction as visitors to Naples ventured into the poorer areas of the city to try the local specialty.
Until about 1830, pizza was sold from open-air stands and out of pizza bakeries, and pizzerias keep this old tradition alive today. It is possible to enjoy paper-wrapped pizza and a drink sold from open-air stands outside the premises. Antica Pizzeria Port’Alba in Naples is widely regarded as the city’s first pizzeria.
Purists, like the famous pizzeria “Da Michele” in Via C. Sersale (founded 1870),consider there to be only two true pizzas — the Marinara and the Margherita — and that is all they serve. These two “pure” pizzas are the ones preferred by many Italians today.
The Marinara is the older of the two and has a topping of tomato, oregano, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. It is named “marinara” because it was traditionally the food prepared by “la marinara”, the seaman’s wife, for her seafaring husband when he returned from fishing trips in the Bay of Naples.
The Margherita is topped with modest amounts of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and fresh basil. It is widely attributed to baker Raffaele Esposito, who worked at “Pizzeria di Pietro,” established in 1880. Though recent research casts doubt on this legend,the tale holds that, in 1889, he baked three different pizzas for the visit of King Umberto I and Queen Margherita of Savoy. The Queen’s favorite was a pizza evoking the colors of the Italian flag — green (basil leaves), white (mozzarella), and red (tomatoes). According to the tale, this combination was named Pizza Margherita in her honor. Although those were the most preferred, today there are many variations of pizzas.
Pizza is now a type of bread and tomato dish, often served with cheese. However, until the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, the dish was sweet, not savory, and earlier versions which were savory more resembled the flat breads now known as schiacciata. Pellegrino Artusi‘s classic early twentieth century cookbook, La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene gives three recipes for pizza, all of which are sweet.However, by 1927, Ada Boni’s collection of regional cooking includes a recipe using tomatoes and mozzarella.
“Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana” (“True Neapolitan Pizza Association”), which was founded in 1984, has set the very specific rules that must be followed for an authentic Neapolitan pizza. These include that the pizza must be baked in a wood-fired, domed oven; that the base must be hand-kneaded and must not be rolled with a pin or prepared by any mechanical means (i pizzaioli — the pizza makers — make the pizza by rolling it with their fingers) and that the pizza must not exceed 35 centimetres in diameter or be more than one-third of a centimetre thick at the centre. The association also selects pizzerias all around the world to produce and spread the verace pizza napoletana philosophy and method.
The pizza bases in Naples are soft and pliable. In Rome they prefer a thin and crispy base. Another popular form of pizza in Italy is “pizza al taglio” which is pizza baked in rectangular trays with a wide variety of toppings and sold by weight.
In December 2009, the pizza napoletana was granted Traditional Speciality Guaranteed status by the European Union.